A Case of Bad Memory

Admiral of the Fleet Lord Chatfield.

In November 1888 Ernle Chatfield, Midshipman, was appointed to the sloop Cleopatra, which had just commissioned for duty on the South East Coast of America Station. He recalled in his memoirs of her Captain:

Captain Archibald Musgrave was an elderly, grey-bearded man with a large growth on the back of his neck.

Chatfield went on to recount how on Christmas day the ship was taken aback without warning, keeled over, and on account of the First Lieutenant’s swift response the ship keeled over in the other direction:

The Captain, flung off the poop, struck his bad neck against a bolt and was carried away insensible to his cabin. He soon recovered, but I think the blow eventually killed him as he died at Monte Video in the following year.

Lord Chatfield can not have thought too much of Musgrave, as several of his details are wrong. His name was Archer John William Musgrave, not Archibald. He had entered the Royal Navy in 1855 and, in spite of losing a year’s seniority as a Midshipman, he had managed to obtain a haul down promotion to the rank of Commander at the age of 28, and promotion to Captain at the relatively early age of 37. He then had to wait over five years for a command, that of Rapid, before being given command of the Cleopatra in 1888. He was not elderly, being only 46 at the time, although if he was as grey-haired as Chatfield says then he may be forgiven for assuming it. Where Chatfield is especially inaccurate is in claiming Musgrave died in Montevideo in 1889. On 10 August 1891 he was superseded at his own request (Chatfield had left the ship in February 1890), and was invalided on 21 August for ‘Lipomata’, the growth on his neck. He returned to Britain on 21 September and was invalided, his ailment being ‘beyond control’. He then presumably went abroad for his health, and he died in Pau, France, on 20 May 1892, 13 days after his fiftieth birthday. His widow, Louise Elizabeth Innes Musgrave, was awarded a pension of £90 a year. In highlighting Captain Musgrave’s sad story, Chatfield might have gotten the facts right, a record which is now corrected.

Captain Musgrave’s service records are in ADM 196/14/461 and ADM 196/37/282.

‘The worst Golfer in England’

NPG x82543; Sir John Donald Kelly copy by Elliott & Fry
Sir John D. Kelly in the 1920s.

In August 1933 Captain Thomas H. Binney gave up command of H.M.S. Hood in the Home Fleet. His immediate superior, Rear-Admiral William M. James, commanding the Battle Cruiser Squadron, wrote of him, ‘I have used the highest marking throughout, because I do think that Captain Binney is an exceptional officer.’ He then went on to go into detail about Binney’s success in command of the Hood in the wake of the Invergordon Mutiny.

Then the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet passed judgement. We have already seen how blistering Sir John D. Kelly could be in writing about his subordinates. In this instance he was by and large positive, yet still couldn’t resist some amusing observations and also a back-handed compliment at Rear-Admiral James:

Though I have the highest opinion of Captain Binney, I should not have marked him quite so superlatively throughout.

Exuberance is, however, one of the pleasant idiosyncracies of his reporting officer.

A first-rate Captain of a ship. His leadership had made a vast difference in the Ship. Though there was a lot of back-lash to make up, she has paid-off a thoroughly efficient fighting unit of my Fleet. On account of the back-lash aforesaid, I do not consider that HOOD reached the pinnacle that she should have in a further six months under his Command.

A delightfully loyal, most thorough and most reliable Officer.

He is active and young for his years, though I believe him to be the worst Golfer in England.

His sense of the ridiculous is not readily apparent but, may be, it is latent in him.

I recommend him most strongly for promotion to and employment as a Rear-Admiral, and think he is likely to go far in the higher Ranks.

More on Room 40

NPG x168073; Sir (William) Reginald Hall by Walter Stoneman
Rear-Admiral ‘Blinker’ Hall.

I have written before about some of the bad history surrounding Room 40, and, now, another instance. In an article on the famed Zimmermann Telegram of 1917 BBC News reporter Gordon Corera writes, ‘On the morning of 17 January 1917, Nigel de Grey walked into his boss’s office in Room 40 of the Admiralty, home of the British code-breakers.’

Corera was referring to Rear-Admiral W. Reginald ‘Blinker’ Hall, Director of the Intelligence Division of the Admiralty War Staff (pictured). In that one sentence, however, he has made a number of errors.

  1. Hall was not de Grey’s boss. As the latter himself admitted, technically his boss at the time was Sir J. Alfred Ewing, the Director of Naval Education.
  2. Hall’s office was not in 40 O.B., which was on the first floor of the Old Building of the Admiralty complex. Using the Admiralty Telephone Exchange List for May 1917 we see that his office at the time was in 39A (where it had been since he took up the post in 1914) on the ground floor of Block I , later renamed West Block. Some time between May 1917 and February 1918 Hall moved into 39 West Block, a much larger room.
  3. De Grey is hardly likely to have just ‘walked’ into Hall’s office. Corera quotes only part of his recollection in his article, but de Grey went on, ‘I was young and excited and ran all the way to his [Hall’s] room’, which makes far more sense if the office was a whole block away, rather than in the suite of rooms the code-breaking team occupied in and near 40 O.B.

As errors go, it is difficult to see how they can have originated from the existing literature, poor as it is. So come on, BBC News: up your game, please.


Admiralty Telephone Exchange List. Admiralty Library, Portsmouth.
Batey, Mavis. Dilly: The Man who Broke Enigmas (London, 2009).


Dudley North

NPG x74723; Sir Dudley Burton Napier North by Bassano
Admiral Sir Dudley B. R. North.

For my latest article I am researching those officers who applied to qualify in War Staff duties in 1912. One of these officers (of whom there were a greater number than one might suspect according to the current literature on the subject) was Lieutenant Dudley B. R. North (1881 – 1961). Reading through his service record of confidential reports in ADM 196/91 at The National Archives, one immediately notices that a whole page is taken up by one typescript piece of paper containing one report. This covers the period 1932 to 1933, when North served as Chief of Staff to Admiral Sir John Kelly, Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet.

If one were to believe Peter Gretton’s disingenuous entry on North in the [Oxford] Dictionary of National Biography, ‘There his tact and courtesy combined well with the unconventional attitude of Kelly’. However, Kelly’s report on North of 1933 paints a very different picture. It can only be called ‘harsh but fair’. It is to be wondered, however, that his reasonable advice was not taken at the end of the report. Rather than be given a seagoing command to prove his worth he remained on shore for over a year, before being given command of the Royal Yachts for nearly five years. If those in authority had never intended seriously employing him afloat again then he should have been retired on promotion to Vice-Admiral in 1936.

In November 1939, apparently thanks to the influence of Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, he was appointed Flag Officer Commanding North Atlantic, where in 1940 he was made a scapegoat for the failure of an Anglo-Free French assault on Dakar following the passage of a Vichy French cruiser force through his command. North was later officially absolved of any blame. Given Kelly’s report below, however, one can only conclude North should never been near a seagoing command, in which case he could not have been unfairly blamed.

He is certainly not brainy: is slow in the up-take and poor on paper. In most cases his Minutes are the merest platitudes. He is very long-winded which, to one of an impatient disposition, is sometimes irritating.

Hyper-critical rather than constructive and, in mind, stolid rather than imaginative. Many of his ideas are old-fashioned, and, though he has not exhibited this to me, I know him to be strongly opinionated, if not pig-headed. He has an excellent conceit of his own abilities, the cause of which is not apparent.

He had been much too long away from the Fleet, and suffered accordingly. Though he is most popular among his contemporaries, he has an astoundingly restricted acquaintance of Officers junior to him. This may be due to the above reason or to the fact that ‘people’ or his juniors, as such, do not interest him.

‘Chief of Staff’ is, definitely, not his metier; not, at any rate, my Chief of Staff, for he can put very little into the pot that I cannot put there, and in greater measure. He has, perforce, acted largely as a voice-pipe between my Staff Officers and myself, and as the voice-pipe was liable to become choked with extraneous matter, I have frequently been impelled to go, surreptitiously – so as not to hurt his feeling – direct to the mouthpiece, in order to arrive at exact information, and in a concise form.

Though I would hesitate to describe him as a weak character, he is certainly neither a strong nor a forceful one.

Socially, he can be quite amusing, but he cannot be depended upon to make himself pleasant as, on occasions, he sits through a party and scarcely ‘utters’.

On the other hand, he has many good qualities. His manners are pleasant and easy: he is a gentleman. He can be amusing. He is very ambitious. He has a good knowledge of Tactics. He is very diligent and gives of his best. I should judge him to be much liked by the Staff under him.

I feel very strongly that, having been promoted to Rear Admiral on the recommendation of several of his senior Officers, he should be tested in a Sea Command – not as an Admiral Superintendent, for which, in my opinion, he is not fitted – and, dependent on his success, promoted to Vice-Admiral. As I may be entirely wrong in my judgement of him – otherwise than as my own Chief of Staff – I feel that he should be given a hearing in another Court.

It will be remembered, moreover, that the post of Chief of Staff is by no means ever man’s ‘meat’. If I may be allowed a reference to myself: though I may or may not have succeeded reasonably in commanding a Squadron or Fleet, there is no doubt whatever in my mind that I should have an execrable Chief of Staff: a fact that I recognised so well, some years ago, when offered tentatively a similar post, that I refused it.

Finally, I am entirely convinced that he does not possess the qualities for the highest Commands, and should assess him as being what the present First Sea Lord described as ‘a One-job-man’.

Two of a Kind

NPG x44457; Sir George Edwin Patey by Walter Stoneman
Admiral Patey. Image: NPG.

On 2 January 1909 two Captains in the Royal Navy were promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral. This was not particularly unusual, as occasionally more than one officer was promoted at the same time. What was unusual was that the two officers in question, George E. Patey and Julian C. A. Wilkinson, had both been born on 24 February 1859. They both entered the Royal Navy in January, 1872, and then the climb up the greasy pole began. Patey was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant on 10 August 1881, while Wilkinson was promoted on 29 June 1883. Patey specialised as a gunnery officer, while Wilkinson remained a line officer. Promotion to Commander and Captain was solely by selection. Patey’s promotion to Commander came on 31 December 1894, and Wilkinson followed exactly a year later. Both officers were promoted to the rank of Captain on 1 January 1900. Thereafter, provided they had their sea time in and remained fit, both men were guaranteed their flag, which was governed strictly by seniority. Despite the large number of promotions to flag rank which marked this era (there were 21 in 1908 and 14 in 1909) both men managed to be promoted to Rear-Admiral on the same day. One would hope both officers went out and placed large sums of money on a horse the day they learned of their promotions.

Patey went on to retire as an Admiral having commanded the Australian Fleet and the North America and West Indies Station, dying in 1935. Wilkinson, whose health had never been great, retired in 1911 and died in 1917.

Champagne for Lunch

dpOn 13 February 1878 a British squadron of ironclads proceeded up the Dardanelles Straits to Constantinople during the Russo-Turkish War. This was one of those rare moments during the so-called Pax Britannica when the battleships of the Royal Navy came close to opening fire. On that winter’s day, with a blizzard blowing, and visibility practically nil, all hands were at general quarters, the squadron inched its way up the straits. On the bridge of the ironclad Achilles stood Captain Sir William N. W. Hewett, a hero of the Crimean War, knight of the Bath, and recipient of the Victoria Cross. With him stood three midshipmen, cowering in the cold, one of whom was George A. Ballard, who came to prominence as a war planner in the years leading up to the First World War. At the time Ballard was just 15 years old. He later recalled:

We had no shelter there and looked so miserably frozen that Hewett laughed and sent us down to lunch in his cabin with orders to the steward to give us champagne.

With the exception of the grounding of the flagship Alexandra on account of the atrocious visibility, the passage of the fleet passed without incident, and the Turkish forts, which were to prove so troublesome a generation later, did not open fire. And the young Ballard had a good lunch! The author heartily approves of champagne as a curative for cold.

Incidentally, if anyone is interested in the orders for the squadron which transited the straits, they are reproduced in the author’s ‘A Distinct Point in Modern Naval Tactics’ in The Mariner’s Mirror.

‘The Oldest Naval Officer Afloat’

Photo: Merseyside Roll of Honour.

I was looking through an admiral’s service record, and my eye was caught by the record of another officer who was killed during the First World War. Given the age of the admiral in question, this had to be someone quite old. On closer inspection he was even older, and leads on to an interesting life.

Henry Thomas Gartside-Tipping was born in Dublin in 1848, the son of Gartside Gartside-Tipping of Rossferry, Co. Cavan, and entered the Royal Navy in September, 1860. He passed his Lieutenant’s examination in Seamanship in June 1867, managed to be appointed to the royal yacht Victoria and Albert (which carried with it automatic promotion) and was duly promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in August 1870. While taking the short course in Gunnery in H.M.S. Cambridge, gunnery training ship at Plymouth, he was reported to be unable to perform manual labour on account of ‘heart disease’, and thereafter was appointed to relatively sedate posts: command of Dapper, tender to the Britannia at Dartmouth; Ganges, boys’ training ship. In July 1879 he became an Inspector of Life Boats with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. He was placed on the Retired List for non-service in July 1884. He married, in December 1890, Mary Stuart Pilkington, of Southport.

At the outbreak of the First World War he returned to active duty, taking command of the yacht Aries in September 1914. In January 1915 he took command of the yacht Sanda and charge of Auxiliary Patrol Area XIV. He ceased command of the area on 29 May, but retained command of the Sanda, which was sunk by gunfire during an operation off the Belgian coast on 25 September. Gartside-Tipping, aged 67, was lost with his ship.

Vice-Admiral Bacon, commanding the Dover Patrol, mentioned Gartside-Tipping in his January 1916 despatches, claiming he was the ‘oldest naval officer afloat’. He wrote of him, ‘In spite of his advanced age, he rejoined, and with undemonstrative patriotism served at sea as a Lieutenant-Commander.’ Gartside-Tipping was not the oldest naval officer killed during the war, however. On 2 October 1918 Temporary Honorary Lieutenant Edwin Follett, D.S.C., R.N.V.R., borne on the books of Proserpine, was killed in Iraq, aged 75.

Tragically Gartside-Tipping’s widow, Mary, serving in France with the Women’s Emergency Corps, was shot and killed on 4 March 1917 by a deranged soldier.

A Disabled Admiral

Browning as a Rear-Admiral. Photo: Library of Congress.

To mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities (3 December), a quick post on a naval officer who, despite what might usually have been a career-ending injury, managed to rise to the top of his profession. Lieutenant Montague E. Browning, gunnery officer of the battleship Inflexible, had his left hand amputated following an accident on board ship on 15 August 1899. After being repeatedly found unfit he was reported fit for service on 21 January 1890, ‘having been fitted with an efficient mechanical substitute for his hand’. He returned to duty as gunnery officer of the cruiser Forth for the annual manoeuvres that Summer, and remained on the Active List for another 36 years, retiring as an Admiral in 1926, after holding command afloat during the First World War and serving as Second Sea Lord and Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth, afterwards. He died in Winchester on 4 November 1947, aged 84.

On a personal note, I spend most of my time caring for a father who has only one leg, so regrettably I have a little idea of some of the obstacles that people with disabilities face on a daily basis.


The National Archives, ADM 196/42/104.
The Times, 6 November 1947, 7.